Museum installing monuments to commemorate Mine Wars

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Museum installing monuments to commemorate Mine Wars
Community members gather to plan a Mine Wars monument installation at Marmet, West Virginia.

MATEWAN, W.Va. — The first of two monuments commemorating the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia will be installed this weekend in Logan and Kanawha counties, acknowledging a history that state schools long worked to suppress, say organizers.

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Commissioned by the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, located on the Kentucky border at Matewan, the monuments are planned to follow the route followed by miners who fought to Unionize the region's coal operations, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921.

The battle was the largest labor uprising in United States history and the largest armed uprising since the American Civil War. As many as 100 people were killed in the five-day conflict, and many more were arrested.

From late August to early September, some 10,000 armed miners at Blair Mountain confronted 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers, known as the Logan Defenders, backed by mine operators. The battle ended after the U.S. Army intervened by presidential order.

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Public school educators have since been accused of conspiring to suppress the event's history, though, in recent decades, individuals and organizations such as the museum have popularized the struggle.

Shaun Slifer, the lead designer and creative director of the museum, says he believes the history of the Mine Wars was hidden because of its power.

"Why was this dramatic story suppressed? Because it was a critical-lived example of the power of cross-racial, multi-ethnic solidarity,” Slifer said, emphasizing that the monuments will celebrate "the collective efforts of the multiethnic, multiracial working-class army that stood up against oppression."

The museum intends to extend the installation of monuments along the route of the Miners’ March and, eventually, to the site of the Blair Mountain battle itself, much of which is still owned by mining interests hostile to establishing sites that commemorate the event.

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Dedications of the monuments will be Saturday, Sept. 3, at 1 p.m. at the UMWA Local Hall 2395 off WV-17 at Clothier, and Monday, Sept. 5, at 4 p.m. at the George Buckley Community Center, 8505 MacCorkle Ave., Marmet.

Project partners include the International United Mine Workers of America Local 1440, the West Virginia Humanities Council, and the Berea College Appalachian Center.

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum at Matewan explores the deadly, decades-long struggle between miners seeking unionization and industrialists who opposed them in the early 20th century. For more information, contact the museum at 304-691-0014 or WVMineWars.org.

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